Les Misérables (UK, 2012)

les-miserables-movie-posterDirected by: Tom Hooper. Ahhh, Lay Mizzzz, the world renowned masterpiece of musical theatre, and another welcome addition to the filmography of Tom Hooper. I had a week where my significant other was out of town, and I decided on a whim that it would be a good week to indulge in my occasional taste for musicals (which she hates with a passion). After discovering that I loved The Sound of Music, and being pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed Meet Me in St. Louis, I have to admit, I was a bit let down with this one at first. This kind of sweeping, grandiloquent, high-falutin bit of “musical theatre” is a world away from a good old “musical”—closer to opera, really. And I wasn’t mentally prepared for a movie that was all singing, like Umbrellas of Cherbourg. They’re not fucking around here! But once I settled into the movie’s parameters, I found it quite enjoyable. Russell Crowe’s affected “musical theatre” singing voice never gets any less funny as the movie goes on, but it’s the only funny voice, and seeing my man Hugh Jackman bust out the chops, surrounded by Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, not to mention Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen, all of whom do a great job, is more than enough to counterbalance any unintentional funnies from Russell. Hathaway is actually really great, and between this and Interstellar, I think I can safely slot her into my good books of “good actors”, along with Eddie Redmayne, who I’d previously only seen as a super young little kid actor who gets to wear big boy pants because of our culture’s fetishistic obsession with youth: in this role, his youth is a total asset, and his emotional depth is totally up to par for what the story demands. My only gripe with this movie is that the male characters totally overshadow the female characters, even though there are a lot of great female leads in this thing. But look at it—poor Anne Hathaway dies just as her character is getting going, and even though her death provides the impetus of (part of) the narrative, that’s cheating; Helena Bonham Carter is fantastic, and it’s great to see her opposite someone other than Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, but the script (written in the 19th century, admittedly) gives way more lines to the husband, Sacha Baron Cohen (who’s also fucking perfect for this role, no doubt); Samantha Barks as the unrequited lover gets more screentime than Cosette, the other nominal “female lead” besides Anne Hathaway, but her soliloquy (recitative?) amounts to a  one-woman wet t-shirt contest, and then she dies about 20 minutes later (and her parents don’t seem to register her death at all); and the actual actual female lead, Amanda Seyfried as grown-up Cosette, again gets hardly any screentime, hardly any dialogue, she falls in love “at first sight” and it’s meant to be believable—basically, she’s surrounded by men who make all the decisions, who get all the juicy emotional stuff, and then she gets married, the end. Womp-womp. The narrative itself is kind of all over the place—first it’s the core animosity between Valjean and Javert, then it’s a bit of stuff with Fantine, but she dies, then it’s all about Valjean and Cosette, even though Valjean barely knew Fantine, and then it’s Marius and the revolution, and Cosette is grown, and Javert is still after Valjean, but then he has a change of heart and kills himself, ending that conflict kind of weakly, and then the conflict is between Valjean and Marius over the daughter Cosette, but Valjean dies and lets his daughter marry the man she loves, and he’s reunited with the ghost of Anne Hathaway, the end. Maybe I’m being dismissive, but it’s not like this thing is a piece of clockwork. Hell, Mad Max: Fury Road had a more cohesive, satisfying plot than this. So then, in many ways, this is totally a piece of bloated, Oscar fluff, but it’s also a showcase of Hugh Jackman’s amazing acting and singing (probably the best acting Hugh’s done so far, amidst all of the superhero and rom-com shenanigans), and Hathaway proves herself fully capable of delivering the emotional goods. And I liked how the film had that washed-out “Hooper grey” pall all over it that I recognized from The Damned United through to The King’s Speech, and which I’ll gladly watch no matter what the subject matter is. Now, how curious does this make me to see the mid-90’s version with Geoffrey Rush and Liam Neeson? (I think we both know the answer.)

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2 responses to “Les Misérables (UK, 2012)

  1. Pingback: Singin’ in the Rain (USA, 1952) | Offhand Reviews·

  2. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2015 | Offhand Reviews·

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